As he tried to rescue his reelection campaign this week, President Donald Trump seemed to be in full retreat on key coronavirus topics — from the efficacy of mask-wearing to the risks of holding the GOP convention in Florida. The one exception was school reopenings, which he has insisted must happen in person this fall.
Of all the mind-bending coronavirus decisions that Trump has made, the political risks of his back-to-school gamble are perhaps the greatest. At a time when he is struggling with shrinking support among women, moderates and seniors, he is urging parents to send their children back into the classroom even though much is still unknown about the long-term risks to their health and how rapidly they could spread it to vulnerable adults, including grandparents and teachers.It was nearly impossible to follow the President’s logic this week when he expressed fresh concern about the safety of convention-goers in Jacksonville, Florida, but in the same briefing argued that parents should not be worried about sending their children back to school or bringing the virus home.He acknowledged Thursday that schools in some hotspots may need to delay reopening until infection rates come down, and said his administration was asking Congress to provide $105 billion in the next stimulus bill to schools that reopen, while in districts that don’t reopen, he’s requesting the money “go to the parents” so they can decide whether to send their children to private or charter schools.But his threats to tether funding to school districts’ willingness to reopen is quickly becoming the next political battle of wills between Trump and local officials. Not to mention Senate Republicans — some in tight reelections — who have dismissed Trump’s call to withhold more federal aid from schools that remain shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.Trump’s belief that schools must reopen is clearly grounded in his desire to get the economy moving again — which he thinks is the lynchpin of his reelection chances — but once again, he has staked out a position at odds with where the majority of Americans are in this uncertain moment.
Those findings came as Trump inaccurately said during a briefing this week that children don’t transmit the virus easily and don’t bring it home easily, two claims that are still being investigated by the scientific community. (Researchers in a recent South Korea study found that children between 10 and 19 transmit the virus just as easily as adults).“We would like to see schools open. We want to see the economy open,” Trump said Wednesday. “I would like to see the schools open — open 100%. And we’ll do it safely; we’ll do it carefully.”But the President doesnot seem to be heeding the warnings raised by his top public health advisers about what is unknown. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, has repeatedly cautioned that scientists and doctors are still studying how quickly children under the age of 10 can spread the virus, in part because many of them have been at home, away from their peers, during the peak months of the outbreak.Despite efforts to minimize the risk, certain children have suffered severe consequences from contracting the disease, including death, and those with underlying conditions such as obesity, asthma and lung disease are at far greater risk. Some children were hospitalized in the United States and the United Kingdom with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which has symptoms that are similar to Kawasaki disease, which causes inflammation in the walls of blood vessels.Beyond that,more evidence is emerging that some Americans who contract Covid-19 may have long-term health consequences after they have recovered, and the long-term impact of the virus on children is still unknown.Despite those uncertainties, White House officials without medical or public health credentials have largely echoed the President’s line, stressing the importance of getting children back to the classroom, because of the negative consequences of missing in-person studies.Speaking to “The Conservative Circus,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made the wildly inaccurate claim that children are “stoppers of the disease” who “don’t get it and transmit it themselves” as part of her argument that “the default” should be getting children back into the classroom.